The hair and the Usnisa on the head of the Buddha and the jinars

Chanda, Ramaprasad
Indian Historical Quarterly

p.669 The hair and the Usnisa on the head of the Buddha and the jinars The disposition of hair and the representation of the so-called Usnisa, 'turban', on the head of the image of the Buddhas and the Jinas (Tirthankaras) are the most puzzling questions of Indian iconography. In an article entitled "The Buddha's cuda, hair, usnisa, and Crown" Dr. Coomarswamy has dealt with the questions in detail (J. R. A. S., 1928, pp. 815-840). Without going over the whole ground covered by that essay I shall venture to suggest other solutions of the puzzles. The literary evidence for the hair on the Buddha's head relied on by modern scholars is a passage in the introduction to the commentary on the Pail Jatakas known as the Nidanakatha which is thus translated by Rhys Davids:-- "Then he thought, These locks of mine are not suited for a mendicant. Now it is right for any one else to cut the hair of a future Buddha, so I will cut them off myself with sword.' Then, taking his sword in his right hand, and holding the plaited tresses, together with the diadem on them, with his left, he cut them off. So his heir was thus reduced to two inches in length, and curling from the right, it lay close to his head. It remained that length as long as he lived, and the beard the same. There was no need at all to shave either hair or beard any more."(1) The Bodhisattva (future Budha) Guatama then threw the hair and diadem together towards the sky. Sakka received them into a jewel worship in a caitya (temple) in the heaven of the Thirty-three gods. This narrative reads like an expansion of the legend briefly told in the Lalitavistara and the Mahavastu, and illustrated in a basrelief on one of the pillars of the southern gateway (c. 50 B. C.) of the great stupa of Sanci,(2) and in a panel on a corner pillar of the great rail of the stupa of Bharhut(3) (c. 125 B. C.) . The term cudamaha, "worship of hair", not only occurs in the inscription on the Bharhut --------------------------- 1 Buddhist Birth Srories translated by T. W. Rhys Davids,. London, 1880, p 86. 2 Sir John Marshall, A Guide to Sanci, Caicutta, 1918, p. 51, pi. vi b. 3 Coomaraswamy, History of Indian and lndonesian Art, London, 1927, pl. xii, fig. 44; Bachhofer, Early (Indian Sculpture, Paris, 1929, pl. 24. indian Historicae Quaterly, September, 1931 p.670 rail pillar, but also in the Lalitavistara and the Mahavastu. But this legend is unknown to the Pali Nikayas and must have originated after their compilation. In the life of Vipassi in the Mahpadana-sutta of the Digha-Nikaya, the framework of which is the common factor of the biographies of all the Buddhas including Gautama, it is narrated that when the future Buddha (Bodhisattva) was driving in a chariot towards the park he saw a shaven-headed (bhandu) man, a prravrajita (wanderer) wearing yellow robe. When the Bodhisattva was told by the charioteer who the shaven-headed man was and had a talk with the latter, he said:-- "Come then, good charioteer, do you take the carriage and drive it hence back to my rooms. But I will here cut off my hair and beard (kesamassum otaretva, and don the yellow robe, and go forth from home to homelessness."(1) A somewhat different story is told of the renunciation of the Bodhisattva Gautama in four of the Suttas of the Majjhima Nikaya (Nos. 16, 36, 85 and 100). The charioteer and the shaven-headed monk in yellow robe have no place in the narrative. We are simply told:-- "There came a time when I, being quite young, with a wealth of coal-black hair untouched by grey and in all the beauty of my early prime--despite the wishes of my parents, who wept and lamented-cut off my hair and beard, donned the yellow robes and went forth from home to homelessness."(2) In the Subha-sutta (99) of the Majjhima Nikaya a Brahman Sangarava calls Gautama Buddha a mundaka samana, ''shaven-headed monk."(3) So by the time when the sculptors of Mathura began to carve images of Gautama Buddha there were two rival traditions relating to hair on the Buddha's head: an older one now preserved in the Pali Nikayas represented Gautama as mundaka or shaven-headed monk; and another tradition preserved in the Mahavastu, the Lalitavistava and the Nidanakatha represented him as having cut his hair with his sword leaving part of it intact on the head. The ----------------------- 1 Dgha Nikha (P. T. S.), vol. II, p. 28; Dialogues of the Buddha translated by T. W. and C. A. F. Rhys Davids, pt. ii, London, 1910, p. 22. 2 Majjima-Nikaya (Pali Text Society), Vol. 1, pp. 163, 240; Vol. II, pp. 93, 212; Further Dialogues of the Buddha translated by Lord Chalmers, Vol. II, London, 1926, p. 115. 3 Majjhima-Nikaya, Vol. II, P. 210. p.671 shaven-headedd images of the Buddha found at Mathura, Mankuar and Sarnath represent the older tradition, and the images of the Buddha with hair on the head arranged in ringlets represent the other and more popular tradition, because it is found both in Sanskrit and Pali texts. Gautama Buddha was not an ordinary monk. He was born with the thirty-two marks of a Mahapurusa (superman). These marks distinguished the Bodhisattva Gautama from the ordinary Arhats, These marks are fully described in two of the Suttas of the Digha Nikayn (Mahapadana-suttanta and Lakkharna-suttanta) and the Lalitavistara. Two of these marks that relate to the head are usnisa- sirsa, "having a head like a royal turban," and pradakasinavarta-kesah, "having hair (arranged) in ringlets turning to the right." The commentator Buddhaghosa in his Sumangala-vilasini (Mahapadina-sutta-vannana) says that the term unhisasisa (usnisasirsa) may be explained in two different ways either denoting the fullness of the forehead or the fullness of the head. The fullness of the forehead may be caused by a strip of muscle (mamsapatala) rising from the root of the right ear, covering the entire forehead, and terminating in the root of the left ear. As a head with such a strip of muscle on the forehead looks like a head wearing a turban, it is therefore called a turban-like head or turban-head. The other explanation defines the turban-head as a fully round head symmetrical in shape like a water bubble.(1) The smooth head without any mark of hair like the head of the well-known colossal Bodhisattva dedicated by the Friar Bala in the third year of Kaniska at Sarnath, the head of the Bodhisattva image from Katra in the Mathura Museum,(2) the head on the fragment of the Buddba-Bodhisattva image from Mathura in the Museum of Ethnology at Munich,(3) and of other images of the same type, shows slight elevation above the forehead. This elevated part reaching from the root of the right ear to that of the left appears to me to be the plastic representation of the mamsapatala, the strip of muscle on the, forehead of the turban-head, spoken of by Buddhaghosa. ------------------------- 1 Indian Historical Quarterly, Vol. V, no. 4, Supplement, p, 77. 2 Vogel, Catalogue, plate VII; Coornarswamy, History of Indian and Indonesian Art, Fig. 84; Bachhofer, Early Indian Sculpture, plate 81. 3 Bachhofer, Early Indian Scurlpture, plate 82. p.672 The thick lock of curled hair on the top of the head of the Katra and the Munich images is curled like the snail shell (Kaparda). Coomarswamy observes, "That the remainder of the head is smooth does not mean that it is shaved, but simply that all the long hair was drawn up close and tight over scalp into the single tress."(1) This single curled tress is marked by parallel lines indicating individual hairs of which it consists. If the sculptor had intended to represent hair on the rest of the head, he would certainly have adopted the same convention instead of leaving the area smooth. Smoothness therefore indicates that the rest of the head is clean-shaven. One standing image of the Buddha with smooth head in the Mathura Museum has a smooth bump.(2) The tress of hair curling like a snail shell on the top of the head of the images of the Buddha referred to above evidently represents sikha or top-knot. Gautama prescribes in his Dharmasutra (iii, 1422) that an ascetic may either shave or wear a lock on the crown of the head."(3) The artists of Mathura in the Kushan period produced another type of the Buddha head with short hair arranged in ringlets turning to the right and a bump or fleshy protuberance on the top covered by hair arranged in the same way. All the Buddha images of the post-Kushan period with the exception of the Mankuar image have a head of this type. The term usnisa is usually applied to this bump. Is it correct? As we have stated above, usnisa-sirsa, turban-head, is a heal which is either round in form like a turban, or has the appearance of a head wearing a turban even when bare on account of a strip of muscle;covering the upper part of the forehead. Head of either type is turban-like in outline only. A very important part of the royal turban is the crest. A head, turban-like in outline, but without crest, cannot be recognised as a turban-head in the strict sense, Therefore the addition of a bump or fleshy protuberance on the top was evidently thought necessary to turn the head of a Mahapurusa to a perfect turban-head. The so-called usnisa on the Buddha's head is the crest of the usnisa and not the usnisa itself. So it should be termed crest instead of usnisa to avoid misunderstanding. The early Jaina literature, so far avail able, does not render us much help in solving the puzzles relating to the head of the images of the --------------------- 1 J.R.A.S., 1928, P. 827. 2 Vogel, Catalogue, plate XV(a). 3 Sacved Books of the East, Vol. II, p. 194. p.673 Jinas. In the Acaranga-sutra it is said that when the Jina Mahavira turned an ascetic-- "Mahavira then plucked out with his right and left (hands) on the right and left (sides of his head) his hair in five handfuls. But Sakra, the leader and king of the gods, falling down before the feet of the Venerable ascetic Mahavira, caught up the hair in a cup of diamond, and requesting his permission, brought them to the milk ocean."(1) In the Kalpasutra it is said that Mahavira as well as his twentythree predecessors did the same-plucked hair in five handfuls and turned shaven-headed monks. Only the image of one of the Jinas, Rsabha, the first in the series, is shown as wearing matted locks like the Brahman Jatila monks carved on the Sunga monuments. The images of the other twenty-three Jinas mostly show heads with bump covered by hair arranged in ringlts becoming the Mahapurusa. But images of the Jinas with shaven head are not unknown. Coomarswamy has published a seated image of the Jina Parsva with smooth head from Mathura(2) where the different types of the images of the Jinas were carved for the first time. ----------------------- 1.Sacred Books of the East. ol. XXII, p.199. 2.Coomarsudamy, The Origin of The Buddha Lamage, fig, 43. RAMAPRASAD CHANDA